Garrison School Withdraws from Race to the Top

Seeks to protect student behavioral data

By Pamela Doan

At the Wednesday (Nov. 6) meeting of the Garrison Union Free School Board, members voted unanimously to withdraw their Memorandum of Agreement with the New York State Education Department to participate in the federal Race to the Top program.

Race to the Top is an initiative from the U.S. Department of Education launched in 2009 to encourage schools to be creative and innovative through competition. States are awarded money based on total points that are based on compliance with Common Core standards, data sharing, and performance-based evaluation of teachers and administrators, among other things. New York opted in and Superintendent Gloria Colucci noted that the state has received $800 million in grants through the program. GUFS is scheduled to receive $3,000 for its participation in Race to the Top this year, which the board believes may be forfeited by not participating.

The resolution to opt out came to a head over the issue of being forced to choose a dashboard for a portal that would be accessible by parents, students, teachers and administrators and the broader scope of information that will be accessible by a third-party vendor. The issues about the dashboard and portal were first discussed at the Oct. 16 board meeting and reported in the Oct. 18 edition of The Paper.

Colucci explained that data sharing would expand to include information about families and behavioral incidents in addition to the test scores that are currently reported. “The concern is how the third-party vendor will use the data and protect it,” she said. Parents already receive student test scores and can review aggregated scores for the school. As board member Derek DuBois noted, “The value doesn’t seem worth the risk and there are too many unanswered questions.”

Currently, Colucci said, GUFS shares data with the NYS Board of Education, including test scores, and as of next year, behavioral incidents. When New York became one of eight states last spring to cooperate with a not-for-profit vendor called inBloom as its data management company, many legislators and parents were outraged. inBloom is collecting data from the state that is provided by school districts and parents don’t have the option to opt out. Privacy, security and commercial use of the data are all touch points of concern that have prompted many school districts across the state to opt out.

Garrison now joins those ranks and will not be choosing a dashboard for the portal. This action only seems to keep student data from being accessed by yet another vendor and inBloom will still access Garrison student data when it is shared by the state. Board member Jim Cannon said: “There’s the issue of who’s accountable if the vendor does something wrong with the information. New York State will be held harmless, but the school district might not.”

Although many unanswered questions remain about how the state will react to the board’s action, Colucci expected that GUFS could opt in again in the future if the board sees value in the portals and the experience of other school districts that are participating deems it worthwhile. Colucci reported that Haldane School District is withholding action and will not choose a portal at this time. From information provided by the state about the portals, school districts that do not make a choice will be randomly assigned a dashboard.

In other activity at the meeting, Colucci updated the board on progress toward goals and objectives set out by the board for the school. It was an impressive list with everything on the plan either marked as “achieved” or “in progress.” The goals address everything from teacher development to building maintenance and Board President Raymond O’Rourke thanked Colucci for her report: “This is just the kind of progress report we need.” Nothing was presented during the Public Comment section of the meeting.

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